FRUITHURST, Ala. (WIAT) — A small town in Cleburne County finally receives answers after years of investigation, which explains the possible cause of their unusual spike in cancer cases a few years back.

Initial concern began back in 2017 when the tight-knit community of Fruithurst experienced a growing number of cancer patients, several being children. The town has since been working with researchers from the University of Kentucky, the University of Alabama and Auburn University to nail down a cause.

After 8 people, including four children, were diagnosed with similar cancers, the Fruithurst Elementary School principal Christy Hiett went searching for a cause.

With the help of several university geoscientists and sociologists, she is finally able to provide answers to their community.

After a thorough investigation, Ashwood tells me they identified the well water used by community members was contaminated with high levels of radon, DEHP, arsenic and pesticides.

Through grants, households using well water now have reverse osmosis systems to avoid contaminants. Others are now hooked up to monitored municipal water.

“Hopefully things like that won’t happen in the future- that people are paying attention, and we’re not just the small dot on the map- that we are important, and our children are extremely important,” Hiett said. “It just brought a lot of light to that aspect.”

University of Kentucky’s Dr. Loka Ashwood started working with Hiett in 2017 to research these findings.

Through community participation, 16 types of cancers were discovered. The number of people in the area with those cancer types were higher than the national average, according to the research. 

“And I think that’s also why this is powerful because so many people were involved, and they know what it took to do the research, and then you understand how valuable and valid the findings are because you were part of it,” Ashwood said.

Hiett is beyond grateful for everyone’s assistance in the matter, and hopes the new adjustments to the community keep residents healthy for years to come.

“It was very nice to get the help to know that we were important and that the children and the people who have had cancer are important,” Hiett said. “And the ones that we have lost to cancer, it’s just very important to know that their lives were extremely valuable to us too.”

Moving forward, Hiett says they are now advocating to eliminate herbicide application on roads, noting the chemicals can be harmful to community members.